April 19 to 25, 2020 marks National Volunteer Week in Canada. Volunteers are a vital part of the mental health community from coast to coast to coast and spend countless hours supporting the wellbeing of Canadians. With the help of a network of dedicated volunteers, organizations like Kids Help Phone are providing support to youth and adults who are struggling with their mental health amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.
We spoke with Erin Lomax from Bell’s Learning and Engagement Team, who has been volunteering as a Crisis Responder with Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone since December 2019. Erin shares her experiences supporting Canadian youth through the text line and how kindness and connections have the power to make a difference during this time.
How long have you been volunteering as a Crisis Responder for Kids Help Phone?
I have been volunteering as a Crisis Responder since December 2019. Since finishing my training early this year, I have been online over 90 hours and have had close to 150 texting conversations with young people who are struggling.
What inspired you to volunteer with Kids Help Phone?
Kindness. I had been wanting to make a quiet impact on someone’s life for a while. With Kids Help Phone, the quiet impact I was hoping to make had such a loud return. The first post-conversation comment I received read, “Thank you so much, Erin, for your help. I don’t know what I would have done without it <3”. That’s when I realized how a small act of simple kindness can genuinely help someone.
Can you describe a typical volunteer shift?
Every Crisis Responder receives the same intensive training; interactive elements that simulate real situations and conversations. As the training is extensive, the expected time commitment from a volunteer is 4 hours weekly. These 4 hours can be flexible and for me, this means one-hour increments throughout the week.
Once you graduate the training, you’re ready to text with youth. Every time you log into the platform, a supervisor (we call them Supers) is right there with you, in every conversation. They observe your conversation and jump in if you need help, or take over if a texter is in imminent risk.
Texters are diverse, all ages, backgrounds, concerns, gender identities, so even though it is a kid’s helpline, anyone in crisis can connect. Once the texter has shared their thoughts and you have built rapport, together you work through collaborative coping techniques. This goes a long way in helping them realize their own strength.
I find it helpful to openly ask the texter what they need to feel better and it’s okay if they don’t know. Kids Help Phone has so many references and referrals that can be shared, including mobile apps, articles and online tools. Just giving them an opportunity to say what’s on their mind and be heard really helps them to feel supported.
Lastly, after a conversation has ended, Crisis Responders document their own notes and feelings from the experience to help the Supers support you, as a Crisis Responder.
How have you been supporting youth through the COVID-19 crisis in your role as a Crisis Responder?
COVID-19 has been taking up a lot of space in our minds and in the media and texters are reaching out to discuss the direct impact it has on their mental health, addictions, education, relationships, or anxiety. On March 29th, 2020, the Crisis Responder community supported a record-breaking number of conversations within 24 hours.
Texters are messaging with concerns around loneliness, safety, travel, health and even finances. The platform is packed with helpful resources and referrals that can be shared, so I don’t feel like I need to be an “expert in life”; empathy is often enough.
What would you say to someone considering volunteering with Kids Help Phone?
With all the news and concern around COVID-19, social distancing measures have affected everyone, both physically and emotionally. Kids Help Phone has seen an increase in texters and, consequently, has an increased need for volunteers. The thought of volunteering right now can be tough, but Kids Help Phone truly prioritizes self-care and the well-being of their Crisis Responders. If you do find you have some extra time to give back, the digital team at Kids Help Phone is supportive and always available to assist you.
I feel humbled and grateful to be a part of such a compassionate community. One that focuses on ensuring our sense of “togetherness” is not influenced by physical distancing.
If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer for Kids Help Phone please visit their website to learn about available opportunities.
Kids Help Phone is available 24/7 by phone, text or online. To access support, call 1-800-668-6868, visit kidshelpphone.ca or text TALK to 686868. Adults can text WELLNESS to 741741. Frontline workers can text FRONTLINE to 741741. Young people from military families can text CAFKIDS to 686868.